To be a leading digital agency means proactively striving to push the boundaries of what we currently know, by learning from some of the biggest influencers within the industry.

Last week we sent our front-end development/creative team along to the All Day Hey! Conference.  Held at the Everyman Cinema in the centre of Leeds, it promised “an all-star line-up featuring some of the country’s finest minds”.  Part of the Leeds International Festival,  it featured UK-based, influential developers and speakers from within the industry.  The team we sent there have each written a brief synopsis of what they took away from the day.

Richard Shackleton, Emerging Technology Lead

Improving the performance of a number of our most complex websites, including our very own netconstruct.co.uk, has been a focus of mine over the last two months. Therefore, understandably, Patrick Hamann’s talk – “The first meaningful paint” – stood out amongst the rest.  Patrick was able to explain the intricacies of monitoring modern performance metrics like TTFMP (time to first meaningful paint) or SpeedIndex using tools such as Google’s Lighthouse.

After creating a benchmark Patrick then went on to explain different techniques to optimise the critical rendering path using methods such as converting blocking resources like CSS to non-blocking asynchronous resources or informing the browser of important assets like web fonts via the new “preload” API. He also went on to provide the best explanation of how a browser renders a page from the initial request through to the final layout and render, a complex process that many developers simply overlook. 

Understanding this process allows us to make better decisions on how and when to load different assets to provide the best user experience for our clients and their customers. Many of the techniques introduced during the talk have since been applied to many of our websites – and will be rolled out to more in the future.

I will also have to mention Jeremy Keith’s talk “Evaluating Technology” – this provided a brilliant insight on what else to consider when looking at adopting a new native browser API or library. Finally, Ruth John’s “How To Be A Web A/V Artist” added a much appreciated comedic – but also educational – insight into the world of the Web Audio API and Web MIDI API.

Romain Fournioux, Lead Front End Developer

Alice Bartlett’s talk was called “Can't you make it more like bootstrap? She is working for the Financial Times as a Frontend Developer and leads the team in charge of their components system called Origami.

This system allows the FT group to unify the frontend styles across FT and reduce time spent repeating work. To achieve this, they build components, tools and services. Many companies have their own components system, Bootstrap, Lonely Planet and Future Learn are among them.

As part of a group or organisation, having hundreds of websites or single pages is difficult to maintain when different teams are working on them. Websites shared the same design but use different pieces of code which lead to design and functionalities inconsistencies. To build such systems you first need a design system based on the brand style guide to be able to build components from. The purpose of using a system such as Origami is to provide consistency across the organisation and to be in line with the latest design / brand guidelines by building many components that can be used easily across the organisation by adding a reference to the stylesheet/JS or use npm to include a particular component. Alice then explained how using tools helps them to fix the issue of maintaining multiple websites using different CMS or languages using the same components and how other teams are implementing Origami based on their recommendations and documentations.

As a Frontend developer I’ve been working on building frontend style guides based on components as opposed to static HTML sites, and Alice’s talk confirmed that it is the right approach to solve the issue of maintenance for our client’s projects and that sharing with the different teams is key.

 Ashley Warrington, Front End Developer

A lot of the talks on the day were very interesting and opening up different ways of looking and coming at problems. 

The talk by Jeremy Keith was the first of the days and was titled “Evaluating Technology” and focused on how to use new and upcoming technologies within a front end environment. He chose to look at not how well a piece of technology or style rule would work within the current and older versions of browsers, but how well the newly introduced ones would fail. Normally you would look at a CSS rule that would do something nice, like wrap text around a circular image, and see what browsers would support it. If the majority of major browsers did not support it, then chances are you would not use it.

Instead Jeremy would see what would naturally happen if the style was used in a browser that currently did not support the CSS rule, or how well it would fail. In the case of the text wrapping around a circular image, the style rule failed very well as it just meant the text would sit nicely next to the image. It is an interesting take on how to decide which CSS styles to use in the future, and for us will be something that we will be discussing with our design team and allow us as a company to create more compelling user experiences.

Rorie McIntosh, Digital Designer

What happens to your digital-self after you die? Do human beings stop being users when life ends?

Ending the conference on a cheery note, Alberta Soranzo explored the ‘digital ghost’ we leave behind online. As designers we focus much of our attention to on-boarding, but do we give as much thought to off-boarding as well? This is a valid point raised by Alberta. When our physical self passes, there are now novel ways to be remembered—from diamonds to trees, and beyond—we no longer have to settle for just burial or cremation.

How does this translate into our digital persona? Eterni.me is a digital resource that preserves your most important thoughts, stories and memories for eternity. There are strong arguments for and against this kind of service. I believe we should consider this digital legacy we leave behind when designing our digital products, and most importantly give users the choice to keep or delete their personal data when they pass away.

Our guys all agreed that everyone involved put together a brilliant and informative conference – they’re all really looking forward to attending future #AllDayHey conferences.

Introducing some of the day's speakers...

Patrick Hamman - Web Performance Engineer, Fastly

Jeremy Keith - Web Developer & Author, Clearleft

Ruth John - Google Developer Expert & founding member of { Live : JS }

Alice Bartlett - Senior Developer, The Financial Times

Alberta Soranza - Director of End-to-End Service Design,  Lloyds Banking Group